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From The Write Angle Blog


The Final Chapter

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 29 September 2015 · 232 views

by all of us

It is not with sadness, but melancholy, that we at From The Write Angle announce we are disbanding, inter-marrying and moving into condominiums.

Wait, that was Doonesbury.

We have only been the imaginings of an autistic boy looking into a snow globe. … No, that was St.Elsewhere.

The war is over – nope, M*A*S*H.

We can’t continue because we’ve been jailed for criminal indifference.  We haven’t, that was the characters of Seinfeld, but maybe we should all do a little time for that offense.

What we’re trying to say is, we are moving on.

From The Write Angle began in 2011 on the premise that we are often best helped, not by those who have reached the top of the climb, but by our peers just a rung or two ahead of us. As a collection of writers at different levels on the ladder, we offered our thoughts from our point of view, our angle.

But our angles have changed. Each of us has kept to our own climb, which now takes us away from this blog.

For our readers who have journeyed with us, thank you. We hope we have helped. For those who have just found us, we leave behind these articles not as sage advice, but just clues, hints, of how we got where you are now, with the hope that they will guide you toward a better tomorrow.

And we wish that your success will one day inspire others.

In the comments of this post each of the contributors to From The Write Angle, past and present, will write a little something about where they were when they joined us, and where they are now. After that, the automatic lights will go out. This blog will be dark.

But as soon as someone walks through the door, the lights will click on.

If you are a budding writer who has stumbled on this anew, please keep posting comments. We’ll be listening. 



Genre Jumping - Yes, You Can

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 28 September 2015 · 131 views

by Mindy McGinnis

I've had many writers and readers comment on my upcoming novel, not only because it interests them, but because it's such a huge departure from my previously released works.

A MADNESS SO DISCREET releases next Tuesday. It's a Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum, and yes, it's vastly different from NOT A DROP TO DRINK and IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, which are post-apocalyptic survival stories. And if that makes you double-take, process this: my next release from Harper Collins in Fall 2016 is a contemporary, which will be followed up by the beginning of a fantasy series from Penguin/Putnam in the Spring of 2017.

As my students often say: Wait.... what?

I've fielded a lot of questions about writing across genres, most of them revolving around the fact that I'm publishing under the same name in all of these instances. While these books are different from each other in many ways, they retain what my audience comes to me for - my voice, and the feel of an author brand.

A brand can cross genres with you, easily. These novels may take place in different worlds and time periods, be populated by characters that bear no resemblance to the ones that came before, but there's a feel to them that marks them as mine. A reader who enjoys the darkness of my post-apoc writing will find the same element in my Gothic historical, and in my upcoming works as well.

As my critique partner and fellow FTWA blogger RC Lewis likes to say, "It's not a genre. It's a McGinnis."


Mindy McGinnis is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer's Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET in October of 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. Mindy is represented by Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.



What makes a good villain so bad?

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 24 September 2015 · 352 views

by Brighton Luke

Everyone loves a good villain, and if there’s one truly great gift you can get your hero it’s a worthy foe. So, how can we avoid getting stuck with one dimensional, underwhelming, or just plain confusing bad guys/ gals? 

1) Motive
I often see variations on the idea that evil characters (or people) don’t see themselves as evil, that no one thinks they’re the villain of the story. It’s a simplified way of trying to get at the point that villains need a motive. They can’t just go around being evil or the sake of it, that’s boring. Though if you look at some of the most popular villains some of them are well aware of their status as the bad guy, and even relish it. Look at Voldemort in Harry Potter, or Richard III, who got to headline his own Shakespeare play, but comes right out from the start admitting what a bad dude he is. The exciting part wasn’t that they were evil, it was how the villains motives contrasted and interplayed with those of the hero. 

Giving your villain a motive is more than just having him/ her want something. Them wanting world domination, or to kill the hero is the WHAT, the motive is all about the WHY. 

Think about anytime you see a gruesome crime on the news, Why? Is always one of the questions that crosses your mind. Why would anyone do such a thing? In real life we aren’t always lucky enough to find out, but it’s always something we crave, because the why is inherently interesting. So while a real life court case may not legally require a motive for conviction, your readers may very well require one for their interest in your story. Why is the thing everyone wants to know, and in fiction we have the power to give it to them. 

If Voldemort was just killing people for the heck of it there would not have been enough story to fill up seven books. What made Voldemort such a good villain was WHY he was killing people. The WHY of Voldemort’s actions are so interesting that Harry and Dumbledore spend most of the 6th book on a hunt for information about Voldemort’s past and what clues it gives to his motives. In fact it’s his motives that lead to the climax of the story and his ultimate defeat, his obsession with magical superiority and purity meant he chose Horcruxes that had magical significance making them much easier to find, an adventure that had enough juice to fill up almost the entire 7th book. 

So take some time to really go through and work out why your villain is pursuing their current goal, and what impact it has not only on how they go about achieving it, but also on how it affects how your hero will stop them. 

2) Compatibility 
I have commercials for online dating sites to blame for the fact that when I hear the word compatibility I now think questionnaires, and lonely single folk looking for love. Compatibility isn’t just for romance though, it’s key in finding your hero the perfect villain. 

If your hero dispatches the main villain without breaking a sweat, you’re doing it wrong.
If your villain wins, you have a tragedy, but if your hero never stood a chance then your story is just depressing. 

A compatible villain and hero challenge each other to the max, and make us seriously wonder who’s going to come out on top. Writing is hard, you have to go to work and hurt people, especially your hero. 

So, if things are too easy for anyone in your story take a look at their antagonist and see if they need a bit of upgrading.

3) Stop smirking.
This one comes from the land of TV, and anyone who has seen the BBC’s otherwise delightful Merlin series will know what I’m talking about. Morgana (who everyone not a character in the show knows turns bad) starts off the series as a decent person, but just incase we were not catching on to her obvious and inevitable transformation to the dark side the writers and show runner decided to have her give an evil smirk at the end of nearly every line she gives once she starts going bad, all the while the characters around her are completely oblivious to it. I love Morgana, she is a badass formidable foe, (and I totally ship her and Merlin together) but all the smirking made me hate the writers. 

Do not make your readers hate you. If you think your readers need to be hit over the head with some plot point it means you either did not write it correctly to start with, or you are writing for the wrong audience. 

Questions for the comment section:
What are your favorite villain motives? 

What villain pet-peeves do you have?

You can find Brighton on twitter @brightonAwesome or Instagram @brightonL or motivating other writers via Jennifer Connelly memes over on Tumblr



Commas With Conjunctions

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 21 September 2015 · 243 views

by J. Lea López

Are you one of those writers who agonizes over commas? Some writers sprinkle them through their paragraphs with abundance and weed them back out during editing; others use them sparingly and add more to taste later on. Regardless of which type of writer you may be, it never hurts to try to learn the rules of comma placement and hopefully get it right on the first try. Now, I know that in the world of fiction writing, there's little more we hate than "rules," even when it comes to grammar. But I firmly believe that to break any rules, you must first know them well enough to understand how and why you're breaking them in the first place. Today I'll talk about a comma mistake—it's sort of two commas wrapped into one—that I frequently see during editing and also make in my own writing.

In a nutshell, here's what you need to know: you only need a comma with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, so, etc.) if you're joining two independent clauses. An independent clause is one that can stand on its own as a sentence.

If you're allergic to grammar speak, I know what you're thinking right now. Commas, conjunctions, and clauses, oh my! But I promise, it's not that difficult, and once we go through this one tiny example, you'll wonder how you ever got it wrong to begin with. I'll be the guinea pig and use a sentence from my own WIP to demonstrate.

He backed me up against the car and rested his forehead against mine. 

You might be tempted to insert a comma after car, but you don't need one there. He backed me up against the car is an independent clause, but rested his forehead against mine is not. Therefore, no comma.

He backed me up against the car, and he rested his forehead against mine.

Now you need a comma, because both clauses are independent. When in doubt, split the sentence before/after the conjunction and see if each clause is a complete sentence. If so, you need the comma along with the conjunction. He backed me up against the car. He rested his forehead against mine. See, wasn't that easy?

You need that comma whenever you use a conjunction to join independent clauses, but I see a lot of people leave it out. If the two clauses are relatively short, you can leave it out, but otherwise, comma away! Here are a few more examples to reference:

I turned around to push the elevator call button, but Luke grabbed my waist and whipped me around again, his arms closing around me like a vise. Correct. But joins two independent clauses, so you need a comma.

The priest makes eye contact again, and holds it this time. Incorrect. "Holds it this time" is not an independent clause, so there shouldn't be a comma before the conjunction.

It’s one of the stranger things I’ve ever found myself doing, but strange seems to be my only constant right now. Correct.

He released me and stepped back. Correct.

He released me and I stepped back. Comma optional. The clauses are short, so you can leave it out. But if there are issues of clarity or consistency, you should keep the comma before the conjunction.

Do you struggle with comma placement? Let me know if I've confused you more than I've clarified this issue in the comments!

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She also provides freelance copyediting focused on romance and erotica as The Mistress With the Red Pen. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.



Have I Built My World Enough?

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 17 September 2015 · 169 views

by R.C. Lewis

A funny thing happens sometimes when you read book reviews—your own or otherwise. (I know, I know. "Don't read your reviews." Good advice in general, but you do you.) You see a lot of contradictions, and one in particular I've been thinking about.

Reviewer #1: This book is full of amazing, rich world-building!

Reviewer #2: This book could've been good, but the world-building was pretty much non-existent.

(Not real review quotes!)

So, who's right?

They both are. Reading is subjective, and I think when it comes to world-building especially, it varies by both perception and preference. Some readers crave detailed descriptions painting the exact picture as the author intended it. Others want just enough on the page to trigger a mental picture of their own, leaving some of the work of creation up to them.

Neither is wrong.

Some readers focus on the visual aspects—geography, clothing, architecture, art. Others pick up on the less concrete details—sociological, cultural, historical influences on characters' lives.

Again, neither is wrong.

Perhaps the most objective evaluation of world-building would look at how fleshed-out and detailed the world is in the author's head. If only we could know. Alas, all we have is what's on the page, so that's what we have to go on.

That's why it's tricky assigning value judgments like "good" and "bad" to it.

My advice to authors (including myself!) would be to focus first on that off-the-page world-building. Make sure your virtual world is fully realized and makes sense. Then let that reality filter and ooze and weave through the story in whatever way fits your style. Always try to do better, but realize that if readers knock it, it may just be that your style isn't for them. And it will be for someone else.

What do you like to see in world-building? Pet-peeves? Tips for excellent execution?

R.C. Lewis is the math-teaching, ASL-signing world-builder of Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight (Oct. 6, 2015), both from Hyperion. You can find more information at her website, or find her random musings on Twitter.



Twittequette Tips Part 2

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 10 September 2015 · 196 views

by Jemi Fraser

Last year, I posted some Twittequette Tips (Etiquette on Twitter). If you're new to Twitter, you might want to check some of these out, especially if you're considering interacting with agents/publishers.

Today's rant topic is DMs. DMs are Direct Messages, private conversations between 2 Tweeps.

If we've only just met (meaning you followed me, and I followed you back), there's probably no need for us to have a private conversation yet. Let's get to know each other first!

I've had plenty of DM conversations with people I know well on Twitter, but for the most part (for me at least), Twitter is about having fun and making connections with other people, and most of those conversations can be carried on in public. DMs are a great way to warn Tweeps when their Email accounts have sent me spam, to ask/send email addresses, along with other more obvious uses.

(Warning: Personal Pet Peeve Rant Ahead)

If we've just met, please don't send me a DM and:

  • ask me to buy your book or other product
  • link me to where to buy your book or other product 
  • ask me to give you money through a fundraising link
  • ask me to like your FB page

If you met someone in a coffee shop, on the street, or at a friend's house, would your first sentence to them, your first conversation, be to ask them to buy your stuff???? I sincerely hope not!

Don't do it on Social Media either.

I've bought dozens of books written by friends I've met through social media, probably well over a hundred by now. NOT ONCE have I bought a book by someone asking me to do so via a DM.

Marketing is tough. Lots of our authors here at FTWA have posted advice on that, and will continue to do so (click on the Marketing link in the sidebar!). Maybe this seems like an easy way to promote, but, for me, it has the exact opposite effect.

(Okay, rant complete)

What do you think? Are automated DMs requesting a new follower buy something okay or annoying? Have you bought anyone's book that way? Or (like me) have you unfollowed people who pester in DMs?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.



How to Make Your Novel Sellable - Step 2

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 30 August 2015 · 207 views

by +Denise Drespling

Edit Novel

Welcome back for more editing fun! A quick review of the 7 steps:

  1. Initial Read Through
  2. Seek and Destroy Problem Words
  3. In-depth Word Analysis
  4. Read it Out
  5. Get Some Feedback
  6. Let it Rest
  7. Repeat!

Onto step #2!

Step #2: Seek and Destroy Word Problems

It’s time to get out your editing gun and go double-oh-seven on some pesky words.

There are some words in the English language that are overused, misused, or used in vague and weak ways. Your mission is to find the offenders and punish them—with death!

The easiest way, I think, is to have a list. Then you can use the find feature in Word, or whatever your favorite writing program is, to go to each one and decide what to do with it. In some cases, the word might work and should stay. In some, it can be yanked out, and in others, it just needs to be changed or finessed a bit.

Here is my list of words that come off vague or create wordiness: that, thing, stuff, very, really, actually, quite, just, perhaps/maybe, amazing.

Sometimes you need “that” for clarity, but many times, it’s extra. Unless your voice or character are more on the formal side (which having lots of “that’s” tends to feel), you can cut a bunch of these.

Thing and stuff are excuses for ambiguity. Say what the thing or stuff is. Even if you actually don’t know what it is, you can probably find a word to somewhat describe the “stuff.” In this sentence, “He stepped in sticky goo,” is better than “He stepped in sticky stuff.” At least goo provides a visual and a texture. Stuff and things could be almost anything.

Very, really, quite, actually, and just are words that find their way into writing and seem to amplify, but most times really just actually need to disappear. See what I did there? ;) That sentence is quite fine as “most times need to disappear.” Once again, these words can be voice-specific or may come out in dialogue that fits a character, but it’s still worth searching them out to see if they’re very necessary.

Perhaps and maybe also don’t have a place in most cases, unless it’s in dialogue—internal or external. “Maybe I’ll go to the store, or maybe I’ll just go home and read,” works if it’s being said or thought, but something like “the sunrise glowed a red that looked perhaps more orange” sounds like you don’t know. Is it red or orange? Be clear.

Have you ever read something so amazing that you really just had to tell everyone how amazing it was? This is, sadly, a word overused and worn out. I’m guilty of it myself. Not so much in my novels, but if you catch me on social media, most things are amazing or awesome. It should only be used for situations that are “causing great surprise or sudden wonder,” which is what the word amazing actually means.

This brings me to adverbs. What a point of contention in the writing world! Are they evil? Are they fine? What are they? Most adverbs end in ly, but not all. They are any word that describes how something is done. She didn’t just walk, she walked “quickly.” He didn’t love the movie, he only “sort of” liked it. The biggest problem with adverbs is overuse and poor word choice. She doesn’t have to “walk quickly.” She can hurry along. She can dash, speed, rush, or make haste. Chances are, if you remove an adverb and the word it’s modifying, you can find a stronger word to use in its place. Watch these especially around dialogue tags. Don’t do this: “He whispered softly,” “she said angrily,” or “he said coyly.” A whisper is already soft, the anger should be obvious anyway, and the coyness can come out in a gesture. But, they are not evil. You can use them if necessary (which should be sparingly). But make sure it’s truly necessary.

And finally, one of the most important problem word areas—verbs! Using a weak or vague verb can take the fight out of your writing faster than anything else. Some are just plain nondescript like “got” and “went.” “I went up the stairs” can be more colorful as “I dashed up the stairs” or “I shuffled up the stairs.” Even “I walked up the stairs” is better than “went.” Still, you can probably find a better word than just “walked” to describe in what way you moved up the stairs. Take this as an opportunity to show something about the character. Is she excited? Maybe she hopped up the stairs. Is he feeling dejected? Maybe he lumbered up the stairs. Scrutinize every verb and see if there is one stronger than what you have.

And at last, we are at the weakest of the weak words—to be verbs! These are: was, is, am, are, been, being, were, be. I’ve heard it said that “was” is one of the most-used words in the English language. With each of these, as with all the words mentioned here, sometimes they just work. You can’t always cut an “is” or an “are.” What you want to look for are constructions like this: “She was telling me about her trip.” No. She told me about her trip. “Was telling” is passive voice, and it’s something you want to avoid. You want your writing to be as strong, direct, and as clear as possible. Too many of the “to be” verbs in there and the story starts to sound like your distant relative rambling on and on about her month-long vacation to Idaho.

* Special Note: To all my yinzers out there (that’s someone who lives in Pittsburgh, for all you non-yinzers), I will give this warning. DO NOT REMOVE THE "TO BE" WHEN IT’S NEEDED! One of the most confusing and frustrating bits of Pittsburgh-ese are sentences like this: “The house needs vacuumed.” If you’re not originally from the ‘burgh (like I wasn’t when I arrived 15 years ago), this sentence construction sticks out like a sore thumb. But, if you try to explain it to someone who watches the Stillers dahntahn n’ at, you might have trouble getting through. I love Pittsburgh. It’s a beautiful city, filled with amazing things, and the best sports teams in the country (most Super Bowl rings of any NFL team—that’s all I’m saying). I even love the Pittsburgh-ese, but when someone tells me something “needs updated,” my eye twitches at them a bit. It needs TO BE updated. The house needs TO BE vacuumed. Pulling out the “to be’s” in these cases doesn’t make your writing better, it just makes you sound like a jagoff.

Now that the little pesky words are gone forever, we are ready for step #3 (my favorite step)—In-depth Word Analysis

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.



There's An App For That: Apps for Authors

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 27 August 2015 · 318 views

by MarcyKate Connolly

If there’s one thing most writers would like more of it’s time. Time is precious, time is words on the page.

This is a thing that really hits home when you’re launching a book, but writers at all stages feel this pressure. Fortunately, there are apps that can help streamline your process, keep you organized, and most importantly save you time. Since I never leave home without my iPhone, I thought I'd share a few apps I’ve found particularly useful:


Available on: Web, Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Have multiple computers and devices you use to write your books and collect notes? Save them in Dropbox and keep everything synced across devices.

Why I love it: Ever had a laptop or device stolen? Or malfunction and lose a whole day’s work? If you saved your work in Dropbox , your files are still available to access on the web (and download to your new computer/device when you replace it!). Basically this is a MUST HAVE for writers!

Zoho Projects

Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: A project management app in your pocket (and web browser!). The free version of this app has a calendar to track things like events, and a task and milestone function to keep your writing on track and meeting deadlines. You can also track your progress on how much of the task you’ve completed, add notes, and even invite people to your project (handy if you’re co-authoring a book!)

Why I love it: I have book ideas coming out my ears, guys. This app is a necessity for me so I can keep track of which project I’m supposed to work on now, and when I want (or need) to complete it by. Also hugely helpful in ensuring I do all the big and little things I need to do to promote my books. I use this daily, and even setup the paid version for my day job (and my employer loves it!).

Save the Cat! Lite (also paid version with more features)

Available on: Desktop, iPhone (lite), iPhone (full paid version)

What it is: Do you love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beatsheets? Well, there’s an app for that! Comes in free (Lite) or Paid versions ($21.99).

Plot your book on the go! Pro features also include scene cards, characters, locations, notes, and more.  However, if you just like to plot beats on the go, the free version should totally meet your needs.

Why I love it: It’s Beatsheets meets Scrivener on your phone = WINNING (especially for those of us who have been waiting for a Scrivener app FOREVER.). Basically, it’s my two main writing tools in one, and that’s pretty dang awesome.


Available on: Web/Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Available in 3 versions: Basic (free), Pro ($29.99/month), or Premium ($49.99/year). Create “notebooks” to store various notes, pictures, checklists, audio files, and more.

Why I love it: I create a notebook for each project I’m working on so I can jot notes down on the go, store photos of places I visit that are featured in the books or remind me of the books, and keep track of revision ideas and to dos.


Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: App for the iPhone and your browser to track expenses by category (things like postage and mileage, etc) and give you a handy PDF export at the end of the year. You can enter expenses manually or scan your receipts. The free version has plenty of features but those who want the bells and whistles can upgrade.

Why I love it: Taxes! Also, it’s very good to know how much I spend on each category every year. I had no clue I spent so much on Postage but uh, yeah. Kind of a huge expense when you add it all up!

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, is out now from HarperCollins Children's Books, and the companion novel RAVENOUS will be out on 2/9/16.



Lead Me Gently, Author...

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 24 August 2015 · 286 views

by Cat Woods

When I open a book, I embark on a magical journey. The path is set before me, and page by page, I explore a new world until I reach the destination at The End. If I'm lucky, I will walk away changed somehow. Your words will have touched some inner part of me and asked me to evaluate and re-evaluate the way I live my life and the way I see the world. It will challenge me to be a better person, one more cognizant of the people and places around me. It will fill some small part of me I didn't know was empty.

And so I ask, lead me gently, author, and I will follow.

Help me discover amazing gems off the beaten path.

But please, please, please do not tell me what you want me to know.

Rather, let me attach my own meaning to your words. Ignite my senses so I can take away what I need from your writing. Help me feel your book in my heart and soul, not just swallow the sustenance you believe I need.

Tread carefully and don't moralize. Let your characters grow so that I may, too.

Guide me, don't instruct me.
Share without preaching.

Dear Author, I've been told that readers are lazy, that they need you to draw them a map from Point A to Point B. That assumption scares me. It means you are responsible for making the reading experience equal for every reader. It means there would be no need for book discussions because we've all walked in each other's footsteps over the same rocky terrain with our eyes trained on a sole destination. It means we will miss the greatest opportunity to look past the words and see between the lines.

We will miss not only the forest, but also the trees.
We will fail to see the magic hiding right beside us.

And so I ask, dear author, don't give your ending away on page one, and don't beat me over the head with your message.
Don't foreshadow so much...

...that you ruin the surprise.

Your book isn't a soap box.
It's a gift to the world.

Treat it as such.

How do you share your passion without crossing the line? At what point do we risk losing our readers to a pedantic attitude? When is it our job to connect the dots, and when do we allow readers to make their own connections? Is it important that our readers understand and feel exactly what we want them to, or is it more important that they walk away from our writing with the message they need?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat is an avid hiker and lover of all things amazing. She enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path with her daughter in State Parks across the upper Midwest and thinks that regardless of the destination, the journey is half the fun. When she's not hiking in the woods, she's blogging at Words from the Woods or writing juvenile lit from her little house on the prairie.



ISBNs: An elementary primer

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 17 August 2015 · 225 views

by Matt Sinclair

A few years ago, when I was planning to publish what became Spring Fevers, I started to look into what was involved in becoming a publisher. I was a neophyte to the whole independent publishing thing, but it seemed pretty exciting and I wanted to learn.

Initially, we planned to do everything electronically. It soon became apparent that I’d need to either use an ISBN provided for free by the distributors I’d be going through or buy one for myself. Free is one of my favorite words, but when big companies – or even medium-sized companies – offer you something for free, there’s usually a catch or at least a reason that is to their advantage. Well, in this case the reason was because they became the actual publisher.

In the United States, ISBNs, which is an abbreviation for International Standard Book Numbers, are administered by R.R. Bowker – and only Bowker. Each country has a single representative agency responsible for the registration of ISBNs. I imagine those folks around the world know each other pretty well and have little get-togethers every year where they talk about ISBNs while sipping wine and noshing on grapes and cheese. Anyway, the folks at Bowker sell the ISBNs to publishers.

Of course, in the twenty-first century, a lot of authors have decided to become their own publishers. Self-publishing is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long, long time. But it’s become super easy in the past five years or so when e-readers became popular -- and especially now that half of humanity reads books on their phones. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much.

So that free ISBN that Smashwords or Amazon Kindle will give you? It means they’re the publisher of your book. Now, for a lot of writers that’s perfectly fine. I mean who needs any additional headaches? In my case, I was publishing a collection of stories by several different writers. I’d had to develop contracts with them all.

To my mind, it would have been irresponsible for me to take the free ISBN when I’d entered into agreements with all these authors. Looking at the prices of ISBNs, however, I understood why many writers might opt for free. To buy a single ISBN cost upwards of $125. If the book had any success and inspired us to create a second anthology, then I’d presumably pay the money again. Or I could buy ten ISBNs for $250. It was one more milestone in my path toward creating Elephant’s Bookshelf Press.

In a little more than a month, EBP will publish its tenth book, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. We’ve long since exhausted the ten ISBNs I bought back in 2012, and I bought a hundred more. So, I have ISBNs “to spare,” or so it would seem. But that’s the funny thing about ISBNs: you can’t give them away. What was it Uncle Ben in Spiderman said … With great cost comes great responsibility? Something like that.

As I mentioned earlier, each ISBN is associated with the publisher. So if I let a friend use an ISBN, I’d be publishing their book. That might not be a bad thing; I know some pretty darn good writers. But it’s something that carries responsibilities. At least nominally, the revenues would be associated with me and my company, for instance. I’ve learned that a good way to spoil a friendship is to get money involved. But even if that situation had been addressed appropriately to begin with, you might also have advertising issues to contend with as well as promotional sales and opportunities. All of a sudden, you and your buddy are in business together. Again, that could be wonderful. Or it could ruin a friendship.

That said, most self-publishers I know have opted for the free ISBN. And to my knowledge, they’ve not had any major problems and do not regret their decision.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. In September, EBP will publish its latest anthology, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


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